How You Can Help Change the World $1 at a Time
It was a sunny but still cool April afternoon in 1994 in the library at Turner Middle School in Berthoud, Colorado when I first heard the reporters arguing about the use of the word “genocide” and saw the footage of twisted black bodies covered by shreds of brightly colored clothing, lying in pools of blood on the television screen mounted above the circulation desk. The misty streets, the bulldozers, and the sound—I will never forget that sound—of machetes scraping across paving stones. I remember backing away from the television and turning my face into a shelf of bad young adult horror novels, taking them down one by one and pretending to flip through them, hot tears running down my face.
The Rwandan genocide broke my heart. And it opened my eyes to the world outside my little town. I cried and sobbed and beat my pillow for hours that night. My little 13-year-old heart could not understand how people could commit such inhuman atrocities, and how other people could just stand by and watch it happen. It's the first time I remember being angry, ashamed at my country, my lifestyle, even God.
I struggled through that summer, feeling isolated, alienated, confused by the world and wondering about my place in it. The answer came through the story behind the lyrics to "The Battlehymn of the Republic" -- it used to be an old English drinking song, and the American adaptation shared the crass, degrading lyrics typical of the genre. Julia Ward Howe was standing on the steps of the US capitol building with Abraham Lincoln one rainy evening during the Civil War. Watching the soldiers march past over the slick grey cobbles and hearing their lusty song, she asked him, "why must young men go forth to die with such obscenities on their lips?" His response to her turned my anger into resolve and has been a guide for my life ever since; "Why don't you do something about it?"
I haven’t written any immortal poems. I haven’t built any orphanages or found the cure for any diseases. I haven’t even traveled very much. But since that day almost 15 years ago, I have kept my promise to myself to do something—to never be one of the people who just stands by and lets suffering happen.
Most of the things I've done are small—"drops in the bucket," you might say. And coming to realize more and more both the scale and complexity of the challenges made those drops seem small indeed. One third of the population, some 2 billion people, live and die without access to clean water and proper sanitation. 1 in 5 women in the US will be raped at some point in her life. We're still losing an area the size of Panama to slash-and-burn deforestation each year. And over the course of the next hour, some 500 African children will have died of malnutrition. These problems are BIG. And it takes a lot to solve them. Big hearts, big ideas, and most of the time, big money. I don't, and may never, have the millions of dollars it takes to start unraveling the complex social problems that keep me up at night.
But what I realized one morning after a particularly sleepless night was that while I am not (and may never be) one person with half a million dollars, I AM connected to half a million people with $1. And all those little "drops in the bucket" put together WILL change the world.
I know our work at Tipping Bucket won’t wipe out poverty in one fell swoop. But I also know it will make a difference. Being able to work directly with innovative, committed world-changers and helping to share their experience, their contribution, with the world is a unique opportunity.
The myriad faces of the world’s suffering and inequity are daunting, heartbreaking problems. But together, we can do something about it.
SaraJoy Pond, founder of TippingBucket.org, is a designer, educator, evaluator and determined to change the world. She’s currently one defense away from a PhD in Instructional Psychology, is intensely fond of typography, symphonic cello, and stracciatella gelato and detests bad line breaks, bean soup, and writing her own bio.
Photo 1 and Photo 2 courtesy of Flicker.